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Attorneys Say Lawsuits Likely After Alaska Airlines Door Blows Off

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Aviation accident attorneys at Wisner Baum represent multiple passengers who were onboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. If you were on this harrowing flight, you may be able to pursue justice and compensation in a lawsuit. To speak with a lawyer about your legal rights, call us at 855-948-5098 or fill out our contact form for a free and confidential case evaluation.

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Investigation Update

Passengers aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 experienced a nightmarish in-flight emergency on Friday, January 5, 2024. A panel that was covering an exit door area on the Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane blew off the aircraft, forcing the pilots to return to Portland International Airport.

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 departed at 5:07 p.m. with 171 passengers traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California. Minutes after takeoff, a piece of the fuselage that has since been identified as a cabin door plug flew off the plane at an altitude of 16,000 feet. The sudden loss of cabin pressure caused oxygen masks to drop from the ceiling. Videos from passengers inside the aircraft revealed a significant opening in the plane, roughly the size of a refrigerator. While no serious injuries were reported, the incident was terrifying for passengers.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m going to die.’” – 22-year-old Vi Nguyen of Portland Oregon, an Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 passenger.

Passengers on the flight recalled hearing a loud "bang" or "pop" when the door plug separated from the passenger cabin. The plug was adjacent to Row 26 on the left side of the aircraft. Miraculously, no passengers were seated in the two seats next to the door (seats 26A and 26B). According to officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the headrests on both 26A and 26B were ripped off and the tray table on the back of 26A is missing.

As the pilots turned the plane around, the passenger cabin remained eerily calm. The plane did not make any unexpected maneuvers, and the flight crew reportedly helped people stay composed.

What Caused the Alaska Airlines 1282 Door Incident?

At this time, the cause of the incident is unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the cause of the Alaska Airlines in-flight emergency. According to aviation accident attorney Timothy A. Loranger, inquiries into these types of incidents take a year or more to complete. Once NTSB has finished the investigation, the agency will issue a report detailing the cause as well as any relevant safety recommendations.

The flight’s cockpit voice recorder would have been a resource for investigators to better understand what happened. However, according to NTSB, the cockpit voice recording was inadvertently erased. That is because cockpit voice recorders are only set up to record on a two-hour loop, which means that the previous audio is erased and overwritten at the two-hour mark. This has affected 10 aviation investigations in the last five years, including numerous inquiries into near-misses on U.S. runways last year.

NTSB has recommended an increase in the minimum time recorded on CVR’s from two hours to 25 hours. If this recommendation had been active prior to Friday, investigators would have gained access to that valuable information.

If you would like to explore your legal options regarding this incident, please call Wisner Baum at (855) 948-5098.

National Transportation Safety Board Finds Plug Covering Unused Exit Door as Investigation Continues

NTSB found the plug covering an unused exit door that blew out minutes into Flight 1282. The finding could prove vital in determining the cause of the blowout, which forced the Boeing 737 Max 9 to return to Portland, Oregon shortly after takeoff.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy expressed her gratitude to a schoolteacher named Bob, who found the plug in the backyard of his home outside Portland. She described the part as a "key missing component" in uncovering the cause of the accident.

FAA Grounds Boeing 737 MAX 9 Aircraft

In response to the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft until further notice, stating that it will only lift the grounding when it is satisfied that the planes are safe. The agency issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD), which requires operators to inspect affected Boeing 737 MAX 9’s before further flight. Per the EAD, the agency’s required inspections will affect approximately 171 planes worldwide and take approximately four to eight hours to complete.

On January 8, 2024, FAA issued an update on its airworthiness directive for Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft, saying the planes would remain grounded until “operators complete enhanced inspections which include both left and right cabin door exit plugs, door components, and fasteners.”

Alaska Airlines has 65 MAX 9 planes and United Airlines has 79. They are the only airlines in the U.S. with MAX 9’s in their fleet.

Lawsuits Expected After Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Emergency

The Alaska Airlines incident has once again raised concerns about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX series. Previously, in 2018 and 2019, two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes occurred, resulting in the grounding of these aircraft. The jets were only permitted to return to service in late 2020.

Wisner Baum senior partner Timothy A. Loranger believes lawsuits are likely to be filed by Alaska Airlines passengers who experienced injuries and suffered the emotional trauma of not knowing whether the plane was going to make it back to Portland. “While it may be true that no major injuries were reported, that does not mean that passengers did not suffer harm in this horrifying incident,” Loranger says. “It is too early to speculate on the cause, this is not the first time that something has gone wrong with the MAX series. Our firm handled cases against Boeing stemming from the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters, both of which could have been prevented. If the investigation finds that Boeing was negligent here, they will face lawsuits.”

Attorney Clay Robbins III believes Alaska Airlines may be held liable as well if the airline knew about any issues with the plane and failed to take it out of service. “The investigation will rightly focus on the manufacture and installation of the door plug, but if there is evidence that Alaska Airlines knew of the potential for a disaster like this but failed to do anything about it, in that scenario, they may also face litigation,” Robbins says.

United Finds Loose Bolts on Boeing 737 MAX 9’s

United Airlines has announced the discovery of loose door plug bolts and other components on several of its own Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes. United, in compliance with FAA regulations, is conducting inspections and has confirmed the loose bolts on an unspecified number of its 737 MAX 9 aircraft. The Air Current was the first to report the news, revealing that at least five Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes in United Airlines' fleet had been found with loose parts.

The news will likely add more scrutiny to the inquiry into Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, which installed the door plugs and makes the body for the 737 MAX.

ALASKA AIRLINES FLIGHT 1282 UPDATE

February 7, 2024: NTSB investigators revealed a significant finding regarding the Alaska Airlines flight 1282 incident last month. According to the agency’s preliminary report, evidence suggests that four crucial bolts responsible for securing the door plug on the Boeing 737 MAX 9 were missing during the time of the blowout. Worse, the report included a photo taken in September of 2023 by a Boeing employee, which showed the bolts were missing during work on the plane. This means the aircraft was transporting passengers for months with the bolts missing.

The NTSB preliminary report comes precisely one month and a day after the January 5 incident, which led to the emergency grounding of all Boeing MAX 9 planes that lasted weeks. In response to the NTSB report, Boeing issued a statement accepting responsibility for the Alaska Airlines incident and expressed a commitment to ensuring that similar incidents do not happen in the future.

Even with Boeing’s statement accepting responsibility for the disaster, lawmakers are not taking any chances. On Tuesday, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker testified before Congress. He said there are now two dozen FAA inspectors on location at Boeing’s Renton, Washington plant as part of an agency audit. Whitaker also noted that “the current system is not working because it’s not delivering safe aircraft, so we have to make changes to that.”

January 23, 2024: In an interview with NBC, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said in-house inspections of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in the airline’s fleet found that “many” of the planes had loose bolts. In the interview, Minicucci expressed frustration and anger that this incident “happened to our guests and happened to our people.”

In a separate interview, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said the company is considering a pivot away from the 737 MAX 10, the new generation in the MAX series.

January 16, 2024: Four passengers aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 filed a lawsuit against the airline and Boeing. The lawsuit alleges Alaska Airlines is to blame for the in-flight emergency because the company kept the plane in service despite an earlier decision not to fly over the ocean. The lawsuit further alleges the aircraft had experienced several depressurization warnings prior to the Flight 1282 emergency. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy noted that the airline’s decision to fly the plane made sense, but the lawsuit accuses Alaska Airlines and Boeing of “endangering passengers.”

January 13, 2024: Alaska Airlines says it will “enhance” oversight of Boeing-manufactured planes. The airline began the process of reviewing Boeing’s production quality and control systems this week as the MAX 9 aircraft remains grounded. Per FAA, the MAX 9 will stay grounded until Boeing provides data that will likely take a few days to collect.

January 12, 2024: A former quality control inspector for Spirit AeroSystems, a Boeing parts supplier, reported “excessive amounts of defects” at a company plant, according to legal documents. The documents were made public as part of a court case filed by shareholders against Spirit's executives. The lawsuit alleges Spirit executives mismanaged the company and misled shareholders on operations, which led to significant depreciations in Spirit's stock price.

The documents say that a former Spirit employee was asked to perform his duties in an unethical manner designed to conceal quality problems. The employee further alleges Spirit managers retaliated against him for blowing the whistle by demoting him.

A second employee identified in the lawsuit said auditors “repeatedly found torque wrenches in mechanics' toolboxes that were not properly calibrated,” which is “potentially a serious problem, as a torque wrench that is out of calibration may not torque fasteners to the correct levels, resulting in over tightening or under-tightening that could threaten the structural integrity of the parts in question."

January 11, 2024: FAA sent a letter to Boeing informing the company of an investigation into Alaska Airlines emergency, noting that the circumstances “indicate that Boeing may have failed to ensure its completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation…This incident should have never happened and it cannot happen again.”

Attorneys With Experience in Airline Cases Against Boeing

Lawsuits against major aviation companies require proven litigators who understand what it takes to win big cases. Since 1988, the aviation attorneys at Wisner Baum have represented clients in over 200 airline crashes or inflight emergencies involving Boeing aircraft. These are the most recent airline incidents the firm has handled involving Boeing aircraft:

Our firm has the resources and experience to take on any corporate opponent and win. Since 1985, we have represented over 800 passengers, crew, and other victims harmed in aviation disasters across six continents and 29 countries. During that time, we have won over half a billion in aviation cases. Across all areas of practice, the firm has won more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements.

Call our aviation accident attorneys at (855) 948-5098 or submit our online form for a free case evaluation.

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